The youth team suffered a 2-1 home defeat to Bury on Saturday, with their late pressure proving fruitless having conceded twice in the first-half.
Josh Pollard gave the Lilywhites a lifeline with nine minutes remaining, but the damage had already been done after Wealth da Silva had struck from the edge of the box midway through the first-half and Joe Adams added a second from the spot just before the break.
In an action-packed contest, PNE had the better of the early opportunities as Harry Garstang was denied by the legs of visiting ‘keeper Mark Edwards-Williams following Jack Baxter’s incisive pass into the box.
Minutes later, Garstang forced Edwards-Williams into another stop, this time denying the PNE attacker with an excellent reaction save from a quickly taken free-kick.
Bury had threatened early on without creating a clear chance but went ahead thanks to Da Silva’s individual effort in the 22nd minute. The winger drove inside from deep on the right flank and unleashed a low effort which sneaked into the bottom right corner.
Just after the half hour, Oscar O’Neil showed quick feet to earn some space just outside the box but he drilled Garstang’s layoff wide of the bottom corner. Bury countered as Da Silva again surged through the centre but shot wide of the far post.
Lilywhites ‘keeper Callum Roberts made an important save to deny Rob Harker towards the end of the half but Bury made it 2-0 shortly after in the 45th minute.
The goal was a result of another solo run as Adams tricked his way into the area down the left, yielding a spot kick which he duly placed into the bottom right corner.
Despite the deficit, the Lilywhites looked dangerous straight after the break and could have pulled one back when Tryhs Dolan connected with Jerome Jolly’s corner but for a goal line clearance.
Eight minutes into the second-half, Adams might have made it three but lifted over from Jack Hatton’s left-wing cross. North End had an equally inviting chance at the other end but Garstang’s touch towards goal was intercepted by substitute goalkeeper Scott Moloney.
Just before the hour, Callum Hulme headed over from an Adams cross while Cameron Hill hit a powerful strike just wide from distance.
Jack Armer and Darren Brannigan were introduced for North End, the latter forcing Moloney into a great diving save from the edge of the box within ten minutes of his arrival.
And soon after, the Lilywhites did pull a goal back. Brannigan showed the invention to find space on the left and after his cross was palmed into Pollard’s path, the midfielder showed great composure to score with a first-time finish.
PNE had chances to equalise in the final moments but Bury might too have extended their advantage but for Roberts, who saved brilliantly from Hulme and Adams from close range.
Meanwhile, Armer curled a fantastic free-kick marginally wide of the top left corner, and Garstang superbly skipped past his markers and into the area but was denied by Moloney’s excellent low save, which was ultimately enough for Bury to secure their 2-1 win.
Lilywhites boss Nick Harrison felt it was an open game but that North End needed to be more clinical in front of goal.
“I thought it was an intense game, both teams worked hard, played to win and had plenty of chances,” he told PNE.com.
“The two goals are really poor to concede and I think they came after what we felt was a great chance for Harry Garstang one-on-one with the ‘keeper. I think that then set the tone for the game; both teams had chances after that.
“What’s really frustrating is that we haven’t taken our good chances that we’ve had right at the end of the game, because that could have helped us get an equaliser and get a point out of the game.”
Harrison was pleased with his players’ attempts to get back into the game, though, and reserved praise for substitutes Darren Brannigan and Josh Pollard as well as U16 attacker, Tyrhys Dolan.
“The players showed great character to get back into the game with the goal, but ultimately we had two or three chances after that which we had to take.
“I thought Darren and Josh came on and made a really good impact. Darren is 6’2” and gives us a bit of presence up top and we passed the ball better forwards and more quickly when he came on, we worked well off him.
“Trhys is a very good player, he’s an U16 player but we don’t look at age – if they’re good enough, they will get their chance. He’s one of two young U16 players, himself and Ethan Walker, who have made a really good impact in the U18 squad.”
Next up for the U18s is a Lancashire FA Youth Cup first round tie against Fleetwood Town on Tuesday which Harrison felt would be a good opportunity to respond.
“For all the disappointment of today’s game, we can look at Tuesday and bounce back from that. We did that well last time after we got beat by Blackpool as in the next game we beat Wigan 3-0
“We will look at Tuesday’s game for the players to do that again, to bounce back by winning the game and to get into the next round.”
PNE line-up: Roberts; Day, Fensome, Stead (Dolan, 33), Campbell (Armer, 62); O’Reilly, Baxter (Pollard, 75); Smart, O’Neil, Jolly (Brannigan, 71); Garstang. Subs not used: Cottam.